Being a volunteer is an exciting experience. You are able to contribute to helping a community who needs it the most and have a hand in changing the lives of others. But not many people who volunteer think about their impact on the environment.
If you are serious about caring for the environment and want to volunteer, you will need to practice some simple eco-friendly tactics. If you are helping with the Ebola crisis in the DRC, ask what you can do to be more eco-friendly in the volunteer camp, and do the same wherever you might be spending time. Below are some top tips on how to be a more eco-friendly volunteer.
Try the local produce
We hear this in our home countries all the time, that buying local is good for the environment as well as good for the local economy. This fact does not change when you are volunteering to prevent and treat Ebola in the DRC or give disaster relief in Rohingya.
You will have the temptation to stick to foods you are used to, rather going to supermarkets or fast food chains for lunch. But this food has likely had to be flown or shipped in to the country, using gas that emits carbon monoxide into the air. You should instead choose to eat local produce and dishes made by local chefs. It is better for the environment and you will be helping the local economy to improve too.
Bag it up
Many volunteers find it useful to bring plastic bags with them for putting dirty clothes and spare toiletries in while in their camp or dormitory. It is handy to have something with you that you can use for this, but plastic bags are not very environmentally-friendly or durable.
If you absolutely must bring bags with you, rather bring along old cloth shopping bags to store your dirty laundry and spare toiletries. This way you will not be creating more litter and your bags will last for much longer. You can use these bags to carry muddy shoes after walking around a local village or to store clothes that you want to donate to a charity.
Bring along a reusable bottle
If you are helping to prevent Ebola in the DRC, the chances are that you will be going to cities and towns that do not have access to fresh, potable water. Which means that you will have to find bottled water to drink, and will need to bring along a reusable bottle to carry with you during the day.
Rather than having to buy single-use plastic bottles, fill your bottle up with water from your volunteer camp or hostel. Look for a glass or stainless steel bottle that is easy to clean and light enough to carry with you wherever you go. You will need to avoid drinking any tap water or water from wells that have not been properly treated, as this could cause you to become ill. If you must purchase bottled water, try to recycle the bottle afterwards at the nearest recycling bin.
You might feel that you need to pack enough outfits to last a lifetime (or at least to look good in your Instagram posts) but the reality is that you only need to pack as much as you truly need. Think about the climate, the jobs you will be performing and what will be reusable and what will be thrown away.
If you are going to be volunteering with children, you do not need to bring toys with you but should rather purchase toys from local businesses. You will be supporting the economy and helping the environment at the same time, and you can use the space in your bag to bring along reusable resources. Your clothing might become damaged, so only bring along items that you do not mind losing, damaging or even leaving behind.
Take only photographs
You might want to bring home a natural souvenir from your volunteering trip, such as a dried flower plucked from a local garden. While these do make for great memories, they might not be the most eco-friendly ways to memorialise your trip.
Instead, you should take photographs of scenery, people and animals so that you have something to look back on for years to come. You will be conserving the environment as well as allowing people in other countries to see the vibrancy and uniqueness of the country you have volunteered in.
Ask before you go
If you want to make your volunteering trip as eco-friendly as possible, you should ask the organisation for some advice on what you can do. They will be able to tell you everything you need to know about the country you will be volunteering in, as well as what you can do to have a sustainable and successful experience.
Remember to try the local produce rather than eating at fast-food chains, bring along cloth bags for your dirty clothes and use a reusable bottle. Your eco-friendly volunteer experience will be one that you remember for years to come, one that the environment thanks you for.